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The Advantages of Heterogeneous Student Groups in Math

When students with diverse performance levels are grouped together, they can all benefit.

It’s just two months into the school year, and students in my class are working in their student-led, heterogeneous learning communities. Students know these as just “learning communities.” In distress, “Leilani” stormed out of her learning community and walked up to me to ask, “Mr. Manfre, can I switch groups?” When I asked why, she proclaimed, “Well, they just don’t get it!” At that moment, I realized Leilani was exactly where she was supposed to be.

Leilani had always been a high-performing student in mathematics. In previous years, she would correctly complete her assigned work, and then the teacher would “differentiate” by providing new material to accelerate her learning and avoid “holding her back.”

That approach fed into the misconception that high performance correlates to greater mathematical ability, when in fact, it’s actually just quick processing. Quick processors like Leilani thrive in an inequitable educational system bounded by tight time constraints of a class period, school day, and school year.

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